Tallis, Frank - 'Darkness Rising'
It is 1903. Outside the Maria Treue Kirche, one of Vienna's splendid baroque churches, the decapitated body of Brother Stanislav, a Piarist monk, is discovered. Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt calls for assistance from his young friend, psychoanalyst Doctor Max Liebermann, a disciple of Professor Freud.
Brother Stanislav has recently written an anti-Semitic article for a conservative newspaper and suspicion falls on the Hassidic community and their charismatic leader Rebbe Barash. Meanwhile Councillor Julius Schmidt resents Councillor Burke Faust who is almost certain to obtain the job he wants - a key post on Mayor Lueger's special advisory panel. Mayor Leuger, Schmidt and Faust are antagonistic towards the various Jewish groups in the city: assimilated Viennese Jews, the Hassidic community and the poverty stricken Eastern Jews who have fled to Vienna from Galicia and the Ukraine to escape the Tsarist pogroms. They are proposing measures to remove Jews from the civil service and professions.
The investigation of the Hassidic community intensifies when Councillor Burke Faust is found murdered in a similar fashion to the Piarist monk, with his head ripped from his body.
The brash young Liebermann has other problems; he has become totally obsessed with the unreachable English woman Miss Lydgate, his former patient, and Councillor Schmidt has exploited his na´ve concerns for a dying patient to get him suspended from his hospital work. Liebermann as a secular and assimilated Jew does not fully understand how his career can be put in jeopardy so easily.
Liebermann takes Rheinhardt's advice to leave Vienna and after also being urged by Barash to get closer to his cultural roots, decides to accompany his father to Prague. There in the old ghetto he begins to understand his origins and the world of Jewish mysticism. As he gets close to the key to the mystery, both his life and his professional career are in the balance.
DARKNESS RISING is intelligent, intellectual, historical crime fiction at its very best. I was especially impressed by the way the author gave us enough psychology, Chopin, Kabbalistic Jewish folklore, and Apfelstrudl, in his portrait of fin-de-siecle Vienna to keep the reader interested and put us into the mindset of the characters. Some readers might find all that culture too much to ingest, but I thought it contributed to an authentic atmosphere and was evocative of the era and the city. The technique of using fairly short chapters to follow the various strands of the narrative kept me interested and gave me a chance to absorb the multitude of facts and different perspectives in the story.
One of the book's pleasures derives from the numerous well-drawn characterisations, ranging from the attractive idealistic social reformers Anna Katzer and Olga Mandl to the evil scheming anti-Semitic Councillor Julius Schmidt. Fictional and real life people and events are joined seamlessly to immerse the reader in a multicultural civilisation that disappeared forever during the first half of the twentieth century.
There are numerous suspects and some red herrings but the whole blends together into a good story, and of course as with most good crime fiction novels it is very thought provoking and distinctly relevant to many of the problems we face today. DARKNESS RISING is one of the best books I have read this past year and in my opinion it should certainly be shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Award.
Frank Tallis is a writer and clinical psychologist, lecturing at the Institute of Psychiatry and King's College Hospital. DARKNESS RISING is the fourth novel in the Dr Max Liebermann series, which is soon to be adapted into a BBC series. His first novel in the Liebermann series, MORTAL MISCHIEF, was shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger.
Norman Price, England